where:JJ’s Tea House, 601 Main St., Ste D, 803-834-6666, facebook.com/JJTeaHouseColumbia
Food folded into a neat vessel will always be delicious. Sure, we have sandwiches, but there’s something about a perfect little handheld thing that you tuck and bite into that makes it 10 times better. Whether it’s pita bread stuffed with lamb, tacos full of chorizo, or even a huge slice of New York pizza loaded with cheese, the combination of something crispy or soft paired with fatty, decadent fillings is just magical.
Bao is Taiwan’s legendary take on folded food. Bao in general is a rather large food category in Chinese culture. There’s the round bao stuffed with char siu pork, sweet baos with various beans, and big, dense baos filled with egg and pork. The one we are talking about here is known as gua bao, or cut bread. The flour-based bun is soft and pillowy, and a perfect foil for rich, fatty meat. Pork belly is often the go-to order, sliding neatly into the cut bun.
JJ’s Tea House takes the familiar bun and adds a sort of Japanese twist by stuffing it with a fried chicken cutlet. Its crispy, crackly shell pairs well with the softness of the bun. A sweet, Teriyaki-esque glaze adds sweetness, while pickled vegetables offer a fresh crunch and light acidity to balance all the flavors out. Some spicy mayo finishes it — because everything is more delicious with spicy mayo.
The restaurant has become a central hub for East Asian students at the University of South Carolina looking for a good meal. While a large portion of the menu veers toward Asian-American classics, there’s enough diversity to provide the comfort for these visiting Gamecocks. For others, it’s a perfect, easily accessible window into Taiwanese street food.